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Do we need to wait for 60 days to file a Mechanics Lien, and can we include unbilled hours?

CaliforniaLien DeadlinesRight to Lien

We are a painting contractor in California. We have been working on a project directly with a homeowner. We have a signed contract, and a Preliminary Notice. Our client's last progress payment check bounced. We found out that she has a history of issues with contractors, so we were dreading this. Her deposit and previous 2 payments went through, so we were hopeful. We stopped work 50 days ago, awaiting payment. However, we have 45 hours that we have not invoiced her for when we were initially continuing with the work. To clarify, for example, we invoiced her for $10,000 on 4/13. We continued to work through 4/24, and then stopped working until we received payment. She paid 6/6, but the check bounced. Am I understanding correctly that we need to wait for 60 days cessation in order to consider that the Date of Completion, before we can file a Mechanic's Lien? Can we include the 45 hours that weren't in the invoice? Should we invoice her for those now? Should we consider the date of cessation as the last actual day we worked there (4/24), or the last day that we invoiced her for (4/13)? If we still need to wait for another 10 days until 60 days have passed since we ceased work, I plan to send her a Notice of Intent to see if that might get her to correct the issue. Also, she is not yet occupying the house. Thank you in advance for your help!

1 reply

Jun 14, 2019
Calculating deadlines can be tricky - but one of the most important things to note about mechanics lien and notice deadlines is that they are deadlines, not starting points. This means that if the time period in which a valid and enforceable lien may be filed passes, the claimant will be left without the lien remedy to support the claim for payment. It can also be tricky to figure out what amounts may included in a lien claim. Let's take a look at California, specifically to see what the requirements are.

For a party who contracted directly with the property owner in California, a mechanics lien must be be filed "after the contractor completes the direct contract, and before the earlier of the following times: (a) Ninety days after completion of the work of improvement. (b) Sixty days after the owner records a notice of completion or cessation."

So, in California, a direct contractor must substantially complete the work set forth by the contract prior to filing a mechanics lien. If the job is substantially complete, then the deadline can be calculated as set forth above. If no notice of completion or cessation is filed, the deadline by which a mechanics lien must be filed is 90 days from the completion of the work. For a direct contractor, this is generally 90 days from last furnishing labor or material to the job. Note, this deadline is the last possible time to file a valid lien, not a date that a claimant must wait for prior to filing.

Now, for the amount.

California law provides that a mechanics lien is limited to "the lesser of the following amounts: (1) The reasonable value of the work provided by the claimant. (2) The price agreed to by the claimant and the person that contracted for the work." Accordingly, the lien doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the specific invoices to the customer. Generally, if labor or material were provided to the project, the value of that labor or material is subject to a lien claim (provided it wasn't furnished without the approval of the owner). Invoices are a good way to prove the value of the materials and labor that were actually furnished to the project, however.
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